Straight Outta Uxbridge

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Beaches and Jungle

The Patenthean Islands may not be the easiest place to get to, but my God they are worth the effort. Pilau Parenthean consists of two islands, the backpackers haven called Kecil and the more upmarket Besar, and are off the North East coast of peninsular Malaysia. From Langkawi we had to make a 12 hour trip comprising of no less than 3 taxis, 1 bus and 3 boats, but the reward was an uncrowded pure white sand beach, and crystal clear turquoise seas. We may have spent a week living in what amounted to a wooden shack, completely cut off from civilization, but that was fine as doing absolutely nothing has never been so enjoyable (and I consider myself quite an authority on this subject).

Our daily routine began at 8am when the electricity to our room was cut. Without the cooling breeze of our fan the sweatbox was unbearable within half an hour and we were forced to get up. Beakfast and lunch were usually seperated by some reading and a morning swim, before commencing an afternoon of snorkeling and sea-frisbee (a sport we are laughably bad at). A couple of films and a beach BBQ was the evening entertainment, along with a few hits from the bottle of JD we had the foresight to bring along.

The snorkeling was unbelievable. Box fish, puffa fish, turtles, sharks and enormous tuna-looking fish that a Malaysian assured me were called "Bumheads" were amongst the myriad fish and coral within easy reach of the coast. One day we were feeling brave and snorkelled our way round to Shark Point in hope of an encounter. We were out there 2 hours and on the brink of giving up when 2 black tipped reef sharks materialized from out of the blue. We had been assured that they were not dangerous, but I don't care what anyone says, when a 6ft shark eyeballs you and then darts towards you, you are going to shit yourself! Of course, trying to out-swim a shark is fairly pointless, and I regained my composure within 30 seconds or so - by which time Kerri was half way to shore, without showing any signs of slowing!

The scaredy-cat theme continued enroute from the Parentheans to the jungle. During a brief bus change stop-over at Kuantan I was exposed to a very unnerving experience. There I was, casually strolling across the terminal, on my way for a pre-departure tinkle, when suddenly, and rather dramatically, a blacked out 4x4 came screaming into the station and screeched to a halt, not 10 meters away. There were probably 20-25 people standing around, but at this point everyone (and I mean everyone) instantly scattered and started running for their lives in all directions. I was caught like the preverbial rabbit in the headlights, in a split second trying to decide whether to succumb to the sense of panic that had overcome me and leg it with the others, or to remain rational and confident that it was nothing to do with me. In the end my legs made the decision for me, and as 4 burly chaps with guns ran past me I was rooted to the spot, legs like jelly, finally assured that I wasn't about to be killed in some gangland war. Some minutes later, these chaps returned with several handcuffed youths, and proceeded to beat the crap out of them in their 4x4. By this time I had stopped hyperventilating and had wobbled my way back onto the bus, where Kerri was waiting with typical sympathetic laughter.

So we made it into the heart of Temah Negara, the oldest rainforest in the world at 130 million years and home to Malaysia's remaining 300 or so wild tigers. It wil come as no surprise to you to learn that neither of us were particlarly keen to spend 3 or 4 days trekking into the depths, surrounded by untold nastys and sleeping under the trees. Instead we made do with a 3 hour stroll round some of the parks recomended routes, including a precarious canopy walk suspended 25 meters above groundlevel. Unfortunately, we got a bit lost (cue more panic as the afternoon turned into early evening) but we eventually made it back in one piece, completely drenched in sweat and having turned a relaxing 3 hour stroll into a gruelling 5 hour trek through some really "bad bush".

After 2 days we bade farewell to more insects that you can imagine, and headed back to KL for our flight back to Singapore airport (the 4th of 5 visits, but undoubtedly the best airport on the planet) and then onto our transfer to Bali...


If you are considering a holiday in Malaysia, let me take this opportunity to give you some advice. Both Penang and Lagkawi are promoted by the tourism office as Island Paradises - but in reality this is only true of one of them.

Penang, now connected to the mainland by the largest bridge in south east Asia, was originally established by the British as a trading post for silks and spices. Tourism is now the biggest industry, but the island still retains the grubby, industrial feel that might once have been it's true character. The capital, Georgetown, is dominated by an enormous and unsightly port, and the city itself is unspectacular (apart from the 3 storey aquarium/pet shop that Kerri and I spent half a day in). For the intrepid motorcyclist, there are some pretty spectacular roads that run through the mountains and forests of the islands centre, but the beaches are poor and the resorts seem a bit....well, tatty.

However, north of Penang, and only a 2 hour ferry ride away is the island of Langkawi. This tropical paradise has something for everyone and i would not hesitate to recommend it for a 2 week getaway. There is so much to do here: big game fishing, golf, Birdworld, Underwater World and a marine park 20km off the coast.

We didn't do any of these things as they are priced for the enjoyment of the 2 week holidaymaker! However, there are 3 beautiful waterfalls, Asia's longest and highest cable car, over 90 islands to "hop" round, wild eagles to feed, giant monitor lizards roaming the streets, amazing beaches, beautiful sunsets and a huge selection of fine eateries. These activities were more in our budget, and even these kept us busy for an entire week.

At the risk of this post sounding like it was sponsored by Malaysian Airlines (Going Beyond Expectations), if you have never considered Langkawi for your holidays, put it on your list at once!


As hard as I may try, I just can't think of any amusing anecdotes from our first couple of weeks in Malaysia. Perhaps this is a direct result of being in a Muslim country where even the Sultan of neighbouring Brunei would struggle to afford a night on the grog!

Kuala Lumpur as a city is a bit like a slightly grubbier version of Singapore. It has accessable transportation, well built roads, enormous shopping malls, a towering business district and friendly, helpful people - 95% of whom speak immaculate English. When you see what the French did for Cambodia, you realise just how lucky the Malays were to have their country colonized by the British - it's all infinitely more civilized!

Oh, I forgot to mention the IMAX cinema, we went to the IMAX cinema everyday. We also visited the worlds tallest building, the Petronas Towers, although disappointingly you can only go as far up as the skybridge, which is only about a third of the way up. However, it's a free day out so I mustn't grumble too much - and we were still back in time for some more IMAX action!

From KL we went to the Cameron Highlands. At 5000ft above sea level, the climate is such that we finaly got some use out of the fleeces we had been debating ditching for the last 3 months. Brisk in the evening, hot, humid and rainy during the day, the British colonialist soon realised that this was ideal tea growing weather and to this day the landscape is dominated by acre upon acre of tea plantations. We visited the largest of them - Boh tea - where the leaves are still picked by hand and crushed, dried and sorted using the same machines they have been using since the 1930's.

The tour was topped off by sitting on the balcony of the main house and taking what was quite possibly the finest pot of tea we have ever had. Quite overcome by the Britishness of it all, and overlooking the plantation asI was, it was all I could do to stop myself requesting a firearm and shooting the occasional native. However, rather remarkably it seems that even in a place like this, the practice of picking off the odd slack worker as a form of motivation is frowned upon these days. They'll be expecting sick pay and holidays before you know it, you mark my words.